To many people, especially the Tamilians, the Makara Shankranti ushers in the New Year. The newly-harvested corn is cooked for the first time on that day. Joyous festivities mark the celebration in every home. Servants, farmers and the poor are fed and clothed, and given presents of money.
On the next day the cow, which is regarded as the symbol of the Holy Mother, is worshipped? Then there is feeding of birds and animals. In this manner the devotee's heart gradually expands during the course of the celebrations, first embracing with its long arms of love the entire household and neighbors, then the servants and the poor, then the cow and then all other living creatures.
The great Bhishma, the grandfather of the Pandavas who was fatally wounded during the Mahabharata war, waited on his death-bed of nails for the onset of this season before finally departing from the earth plane.
As already mentioned, this is the Pongal festival in South India. It is closely connected with agriculture. To the agriculturalist it is a day of triumph. He would have by then brought home the fruit of his tons. Symbolically, the first harvest is offered to the Almighty-and that is
Pongal. To toil was his task, his duty, but the fruit is now offered to Him-that is the spirit of Karma
Yoga. The master is not allowed to grab all the harvest for himself either.
Pongal is the festival during which the landlord distributes food, clothes and money among the
labourers who work under him.
The day prior to the Makara Shankranti, is called the Bhogi festival. On this day, old, worn-out and dirty things are discarded and burnt. Houses are cleaned and white-washed. Even the roads are swept clean and lovely designs are drawn with rice-hour. These practices have their own significance from the point of view of health. But, here I remind you that it will not do to attend to these external things alone. Cleaning the mind of its old dirty habits of thinking and feeling is more urgently needed. Burn them up with a wise and firm resolve to tread the path of truth, low and purity from this holy day onwards. That is the significance of
Pongal in the life of the spiritual aspirant.
If you do this, then the Makara Shankranti has a special significance for you. For the sun,
symbolising knowledge, wisdom and spiritual light, which receded from you when you reveled in the darkness of ignorance, delusion and sensuality, now joyously turns on its northward course and rushes towards you, to shed its light and warmth in greater abundance upon you and to infuse into you more life and energy.
He who dwells in the sun, whom the sun does not know, whose body the sun is and by whose power the sun shines, He is the Supreme Self the Indweller, the immortal Essence. Tat Twam Asi -
"That thou art". Realise this and be free, here and now, on this holy
Pongal or Makara Shankranti day. This is my humble Pongal prayer to you all.
On the same day, young girls prepare various special dishes-sweet rice, sour rice, rice with coconut-and take them to me bank of a river or tank. They lay some leaves on the ground and pace on them balls of the various preparations for the fish, birds and other creatures. It is an extremely colourful ceremony. The crows come down in large numbers and partake of the food. All the time the valuable lesson is driven into our minds: "Share what you have with all': The crow will call others before beginning to eat!
Both these days, which am family re-union days are regarded as being inauspicious for travel. This is to prevent us from going away from home on those days.